With the death of my maternal grandfather this week, I hit one of those sad life milestones. I now have no more living grandparents, and it’s an odd feeling. I was fortunate to have all four of my grandparents throughout most of my life. I got to spend time with all of them. My children also got to meet most of their great-grandparents on my side, which can be a rare thing.

Richard
Richard Zalewski (1921-1999)

I lost my first grandparent in April 1999 at 19 with the death of my paternal grandfather. That death did actually have a lot to do with my journey into genealogy. After that there was a long gap until August 2011 when I was 31 when my paternal grandmother passed away. This year has been particularly rough, especially for my mom, who lost her mom in February 2015 and now her father in November 2015. I am in awe of her perseverance and strength these last 12 months.

For some reason, I was hit hardest by the deaths of my grandfathers. If you would have asked me, I honestly would’ve thought it would have been the other way around. I think it was mainly due to timing. My first grandfather’s death wasn’t completely sudden, but it was quick (pancreatic cancer), so that fact along with it being the loss of my first grandparent hit me hard. I’ve wrote a few times about his funeral and when I broke down while waiting in the car after hearing a favorite song of mine come on the radio.

News of my maternal grandfather’s passing came to me during my morning drive to work while I was in traffic. It wasn’t completely unexpected as he was not doing so well for the last few months. At first, I had a feeling I knew what the call was about so I handled it well, but after I hung up and, specifically, when I thought about how my mom was feeling, I teared up a bit (thanks, empathy.) Let me tell you that driving in morning rush hour traffic with teary eyes is no fun. Coincidentally, the same song that set me off when my paternal grandfather died 16 years ago was on my car radio this morning. Eerie. After I parked, it took me a few minutes to text my wife the news, since after every other word I would get choked up and have to pause.

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LeRoy & Marge Thielke

Comparatively, the deaths of my grandmothers didn’t feel as sad. They both had issues prior, so I wasn’t caught off-guard. I got to say goodbye to both (actually all four) of them on my own terms that helped me better accept their deaths. Though, I do regret, with all of them, not talking to them more about their lives and their ancestors. I kept putting off taking some time with my grandfather and having him look at some old photos and asking him questions. To anyone else, do it now, don’t put it off.

So, now everything just feels a bit different. That phase of my life is over. What I can do now is to teach my children about how amazing they were and keep the legacy going. I love you, Grandpa Z, Grandma Z, Grandma T, and Grandpa T. I’ll see you when I get there.